The ‘least peace­ful’ re­gion

Five coun­tries con­trib­ute dis­pro­por­tion­ately to MENA’s rep­u­ta­tion as one of world’s most un­sta­ble ar­eas, study shows

Arab News - - Spotlight - Ca­line Malek Dubai

The Mid­dle East and North Africa (MENA) re­gion has ranked as the least peace­ful in the world for the sixth con­sec­u­tive year in a study con­ducted by Aus­tralian think tank, the In­sti­tute of Eco­nom­ics and Peace (IEP).

Five of the 10 least peace­ful coun­tries in the world — Su­dan, Libya, Syr­ian, Iraq, Ye­men — are lo­cated in MENA, ac­cord­ing to the 2020 edi­tion of the Global Peace In­dex (GPI).

Re­leased re­cently by the IEP, the study tracks and ranks the sta­tus of peace in 163 in­de­pen­dent states and ter­ri­to­ries across the world, not­ing where con­flict is ris­ing and fall­ing, and which fac­tors are in­flu­enc­ing change.

Syria, the re­port says, re­mains the least peace­ful coun­try in MENA and the sec­ond least peace­ful coun­try over­all, while Iraq is the sec­ond least peace­ful coun­try in the re­gion and the third least peace­ful over­all.

Saudi Ara­bia im­proved by three ranks, from 128 to 125, and Bahrain recorded the great­est im­prove­ment in the re­gion and the third largest im­prove­ment of any na­tion over­all, with a 4.8 per­cent jump in its over­all score.

Only three coun­tries from the re­gion — the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar — ranked in the top 50 peace­ful coun­tries in the world. Glob­ally, Europe re­mains the most peace­ful re­gion, with Ice­land tak­ing the top spot as the most peace­ful coun­try in the world. How­ever, the re­port also men­tioned that al­most half of the coun­tries in Europe have de­te­ri­o­rated in peace­ful­ness since 2008, the year the GPI was launched. The peace in­dex mea­sures more than just the pres­ence or ab­sence of war. It cap­tures the ab­sence of vi­o­lence or the fear of vi­o­lence across three do­mains: Safety and Security; On­go­ing Con­flict; and Mil­i­ta­riza­tion.

While both the Mil­i­ta­riza­tion and On­go­ing Con­flict mark­ers im­proved on av­er­age in MENA, the re­port noted a de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in Safety and Security, due to a stronger like­li­hood of vi­o­lent demon­stra­tions and in­crease in po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity.

For in­stance, vi­o­lent demon­stra­tions con­tinue to be a con­cern in Iraq, which has the max­i­mum pos­si­ble score on this indi­ca­tor. “Since protests erupted across the coun­try in Oc­to­ber 2019, Iraq has had more than 700 fa­tal­i­ties and thou­sands of se­vere in­juries as a re­sult of clashes be­tween anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers and security forces,” the re­port noted. Iran had the largest fall in peace­ful­ness in the re­gion, its score de­te­ri­o­rat­ing across all three GPI do­mains, with the largest oc­cur­ring in Safety and Security.

While the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in global peace­ful­ness has not been lim­ited to any one re­gion, indi­ca­tor, or coun­try, con­flict in the Mid­dle East has been the key driver of di­min­ish­ing peace in the world, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

“Of the 23 in­di­ca­tors in the MENA re­gion, 19 are un­der the av­er­age,” said Serge Stroobants, di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions for Europe and MENA at the IEP. “Four of the main con­flicts of the past years are lo­cated in the re­gion — Libya, Syria, Iraq and Ye­men.”

Ac­cord­ing to Dr. Theodore Karasik, from Gulf State An­a­lyt­ics in Wash­ing­ton D.C., the num­bers are not sur­pris­ing given the per­cep­tions and re­al­i­ties in the re­gion. “The is­sue here, within the GPI scope, is the safety and security of peo­ple in the re­gion,” he told Arab News.

“Given the ten­sions be­tween coun­tries on mul­ti­ple planes

— po­lit­i­cal, re­li­gious, so­cial — when com­bined with var­i­ous forms of con­flict from ki­netic to cy­ber, it cre­ates an im­pact on the peo­ples in ques­tion.”

How­ever, the MENA re­gion, de­spite armed con­flict and in­sta­bil­ity, did record im­prove­ments in some ar­eas, in­clud­ing the num­ber of deaths from in­ter­nal con­flict, the in­ten­sity of in­ter­nal con­flicts, and the im­port and ex­port of weapons. Saudi Ara­bia has jumped five spots in the in­dex since 2008, with In­ter­nal Safety and Security as the only do­main of in­di­ca­tors to de­crease in the past year.

“This is mostly linked to the num­ber of refugees, of in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple (IDPs) on the ter­ri­tory, and some lev­els of po­lit­i­cal ter­ror,” said Stroobants. “The only other indi­ca­tor that de­creased last year was the num­ber of Ex­ter­nal and In­ter­nal Con­flicts Fought, so we see the emer­gence of in­ter­nal con­flict and this is linked with some kind of move­ment on the po­lit­i­cal ter­ror scale that cre­ated IDPs on Saudi Ara­bian soil.”

Syria, de­spite its low rank­ing in the GPI, recorded a slight im­prove­ment in peace­ful­ness, with the civil war and tur­moil con­tin­u­ing to lessen in in­ten­sity.

“Fol­low­ing the cease­fire deal of March 2020, around 35,000 dis­placed civil­ians have re­turned to their homes in Syria’s north­west­ern prov­ince of Idlib,” the re­port says. “How­ever, mil­lions of Syr­i­ans are still ei­ther dis­placed in­ter­nally or are refugees.”

The re­port at­trib­uted the over­all de­cline in global peace — the av­er­age level of global peace­ful­ness that has de­te­ri­o­rated by 2.5 per cent since 2008 — to a range of fac­tors, in­clud­ing in­creased ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity, in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of con­flicts in the Mid­dle East, ris­ing re­gional ten­sions in Eastern Europe and North­east Asia, in­creas­ing num­bers of refugees and height­ened po­lit­i­cal ten­sions in Europe and the US. This year’s edi­tion of the GPI finds that the world has be­come less peace­ful for the ninth time in the last 12 years.

The cri­sis pro­voked by the coro­n­avirus is also play­ing a sig­nif­i­cant role in caus­ing global in­sta­bil­ity ac­cord­ing to the re­port, which notes its po­ten­tial to undo years of so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, ex­ac­er­bate hu­man­i­tar­ian crises and aggravate un­rest and con­flict. Its im­pact is al­ready be­ing seen in wors­en­ing US-China re­la­tions and civil un­rest across the world. In Karasik’s view, the pan­demic is the most crit­i­cal driver of in­sta­bil­ity due to its ef­fect on in­ter­ac­tion, com­merce and, most im­por­tantly, pol­i­tics. “The pan­demic, when com­bined with other re­gional griev­ances, be­comes a strug­gle be­tween meth­ods and ap­proaches.” “In the Mid­dle East, the mod­el­ling is roughly the same in terms of lock­down, test­ing and treat­ment. The GPI find­ings may show quite a dif­fer­ent pic­ture next year as the re­gion con­tin­ues to con­tend with the virus and its last­ing im­pact.” This com­plex, multi-di­men­sional threat to sta­bil­ity re­quires coun­tries to seek in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions for long-term peace, the re­port said. “At the in­sti­tute, we de­vel­oped a con­cept called the Pos­i­tive Peace In­dex (PPI), which looks at the at­ti­tudes, in­sti­tu­tions and pro­cesses that a coun­try needs to put in place to cre­ate, main­tain and sus­tain peace,” said Stroobants. He listed the eight prin­ci­ples of the PPI: a well-func­tion­ing gov­ern­ment, sound busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment, ac­cep­tance of rights of oth­ers, good re­la­tions with neigh­bors, high lev­els of hu­man cap­i­tal, eq­ui­table dis­tri­bu­tion of re­sources, free flow of in­for­ma­tion and low lev­els of cor­rup­tion. When all eight prin­ci­ples are fol­lowed by a coun­try, said Stroobants, it leads to a trans­for­ma­tion. The GPI re­port em­pha­sizes that the IEP has em­pir­i­cally de­rived the PPI through the anal­y­sis of al­most 25,000 eco­nomic and so­cial progress in­di­ca­tors to de­ter­mine which ones have sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant re­la­tion­ships with peace as mea­sured by the GPI.

“We also see the eco­nomic, so­cial, gover­nance and eco­log­i­cal ben­e­fits that come along and, by do­ing so, we cre­ate more re­silient so­ci­eties, which will be able to bet­ter cope with civil un­rest, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, the ef­fects of cli­mate change, and COVID-19,” he said. “There­fore, our ad­vice is: In­vest in pos­i­tive peace. It’s an in­no­va­tive form of de­vel­op­ment.”

FASTFACT de­cline in av­er­age global peace­ful­ness since 2008.


Pales­tini­ans and Is­raeli forces clash dur­ing a demon­stra­tion in the Is­raeli oc­cu­pied West Bank, left. Para­mil­i­tary forces take part in a mil­i­tary pa­rade in the south­ern Iraqi city of Basra, above. Dis­placed Syr­i­ans flee the rebel-held north­west­ern prov­ince of Idlib, below.

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